I’m thinking about how we adjust when we’ve had setbacks. I was in Barnes and Noble today and saw a plaque that read something like this:

“All of us fall down. Living means how we get up.”  Hmmmm. Well, I can relate to that, due to some of my recent setbacks (the bike crash with five broken bones and a ruptured brain aneurysm, to be specific).

Indulge me here for a paragraph about pro cycling. Online, I’ve just finished watching Milano-Sanremo which was held March 19th. Milan-San Remo, or Milano-Sanremo kicks off the spring classics of the European professional race season. The spring classics are known as grueling, long and tough, both in weather and terrain. This race was scheduled to be 291 Kilometers, but due to a landslide on the course, it ended up being 300K.  That’s 186 miles. Frenchman Arnaud Démare won in a very exciting finish. I, of course was rooting for Fabian Cancellera, my fave, who appeared to have a shot at winning until a crash in front of him in the last kilometer forced him out of a good position. Who knows if he could have won, but that crash changed his chances.MSR-Watson-01

Crashes. I don’t recall very many one-day races as riddled with crashes as this one was. I’ve watched lots of pro race crashes in my day, and as anyone reading this knows, I’ve also had my share of crashes!SPTDW505crash-661x440

Every crash in that race changed the day’s outcome for some rider. For some young men, a crash on March 19 may have changed his career path.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how we readjust goals for ourselves as we move through life. If we live with passion (and sorry, but I actually don’t understand people who have no passion for anything), we are striving or at least working at things that matter to us, whether it’s knitting or reading or writing a book or racing a bike or fixing a car. Doing stuff takes passion.

I’ve been thinking about how many times my passion has been interrupted or rerouted and I had to re-gear myself and my life.

When I was four years old and wanted to grow up to be a writer, I thought I’d have published dozens of books by the time I reached my fifties. Well, little things like having kids, earning a living, and the *$&%*# publishing industry get in the way of being able to control that. The old adage proclaims, “You can be whatever you want to be. You can do whatever you want to do, if you just set your heart and mind to it.” Well, yeah. But there are limitations. You can’t be a movie star if you’re note beautiful and talented. There are limitations.  I’m not a best-selling author. I have not won the Newbery Award. Or a Pulitzer. I don’t care so much about the best-selling part, seriously, but I was hoping to retire sometime because I’d supplemented my teaching income with enough writing income. I’m still waiting on that deal. It appears that I could be waiting until I die. But I keep plugging. I love my life, and I would never NOT be a writer, but it sure as heck is not the way I thought it would be when I was at the other end of my life.

I became a runner by default when I attended Oral Roberts University. I wonder if I’ve ever actually admitted online that I attended ORU. It’s not something I’m proud of. It was the beginning of my rebellion against oppressive organized religion, which is such a long story that I shan’t recount it here. But a good thing that came of that place was the desire to “educate the whole person: Body, Mind, and Soul.” So not only did we study and attend mandatory chapel; we were required to accumulate aerobic points for various activities every week of every semester while in attendance.

The first semester, running was required. I HATED it for two weeks, thought my sternum was going to crack open and my heart would attack my life right there and I’d die on the track. But it didn’t happen. I got better. By the end of a month–actually at the end of the third week–I realized that I kind of liked it. At least I liked how I felt afterwards, or how I felt every day when I ran.

By the end of the semester, I was hooked. During finals week, no aerobic points were required. I was so stressed out that I realized I wanted to run. Not just wanted; I needed to run. At 10:00 that night, I went to the indoor track and ran three miles. My stress disappeared. I was addicted and ran for the next nineteen years–until just before my 40th birthday.

That’s when another of those setbacks occurred.

I trained to qualify and did qualify for the Boston Marathon. I ran it on April 15, 1996.  I was running stronger and faster than I had in the previous 19 years. I had my heart set on running a P.R. marathon at Grandma’s that year, which fell on my 40th birthday. I was very excited and was training well. I ran a 6-mile race in 42:08. I was looking at a P.R for sure, I thought.

Five weeks after the Boston Marathon, however, about a month before my birthday-Grandma’s-Marathon, my son Josh and I were out on our bikes (BRAND-new bikes; our old ones had been stolen; home insurance replaced them, and we were just out on the Sakatah Trail trying them out), and I crashed. At the turn-around point, we traded bikes. I was looking down to figure out the shifters. I’d never been on this bike before. I looked up and Josh was stopped on the trial RIGHT in front of me. I slammed on the brakes and veered to miss him. He was in 8th grade, running varsity track for East High, and I actually thought, “I can’t hit his legs! He might not be able to run!” So I crashed and broke my knee. Severed my tibia inside the knee so that a piece was hanging by my ACL. Needless to say, that was a long, painful recovery.

When I could bend my knee, still inside a massive leg brace, I started riding my bike. I actually put quite a few miles on my old Haro mountain bike the last half of that summer. It was fun, but I was eager to run again.

I was determined to run again, and I did.  After intense and motivated physical therapy, I worked back into running. I ran the Winter Carnival half-marathon the next winter, about eight months after the crash. The first seven miles felt great, and then my knee started to hurt. More and more. I hobbled through the last five miles of it, in some pretty serious pain. The next week, I was running and my knee collapsed. Just GAVE OUT and I sprawled on the pavement. I tried again, but it just never worked right again. I did more running over the next few years, but I couldn’t run seriously. Nothing like I used to do.

Runner’s World Magazine arrived, and I threw it across the room, too depressed to look at it.

I had to change one of the things that helped define me. One of the things I was most passionate about in my daily life. I had to admit that I couldn’t really be a runner any more.

So I started biking more.

One day that summer, on that old Haro that probably weighed 50 pounds, I rode to Faribault and back on the trail, tacking on a few extra miles so that I rode my first century: a hundred-mile ride.

The next twenty years were full of bicycle adventures, too many to list in detail: long cross-country rides with a variety of casts of characters, Dairy Queen rides, breakfast rides, the Minnesota Ironman ride every April, the MS Tram, road races, criteriums, time trials, the National 24-Hour Challenge (which I actually won twice), and weekly rides from bike shops…all fun and memorable.

Then I hit some hole in the road on a group ride on Labor Day and flew into the pavement and broke five bones. I was just recovering, on my way out for a road ride in early December when a brain aneurysm ruptured (See stories in other blog posts).

Of course, I’m still determined to ride and race and do 100-mile rides, and even perhaps the 24-Hr Challenge when I’m in the 60+ age division.

Except. My doctor told me I could NOT ride my bike, not even sit and spin easily on my trainer for 3 months after the brain surgery. I obeyed. At my check-up, my doctor told me I could spin easily, but I could NOT get my heart rate up over 110 until 6 months after surgery. WHAT? 6 months? June? 110? Have you ever tried to ride a bike quickly and keep your heart rate under 110? It’s not easy. I’m riding the trainer almost every day, and doing it, but it takes concentration and commitment.

Here’s the kicker: Am I going to get it back? Am I going to be a chicken to ride in a large paceline after my last crash and now, an added fear of smacking my head on the pavement, even in a helmet, since I’ve had a chunk of skull cut out and replaced?

I don’t know the answer to that, but I think about rethinking how I approach my sport. Maybe my competitive days are mostly behind me. I don’t like that idea. But I like to hike and walk. And riding a bike is fun even if your tongue isn’t hanging in your spokes from trying to keep up with speed demons in a paceline.

So that idea of getting up is what living really means just that. We get smacked down. Some of us more than others. Because we put ourselves out there in smacking zone. But it’s worth it. And we keep getting up, and we keep looking for new ways to keep moving forward with our passion.

I’m writing more than I write while teaching. That’s good. I’m slowly getting back in shape. SLOWLY. that’s good. I’m walking a lot. That’s good. And Freya loves it. I’m home more. That’s good. I don’t have definitive discoveries here. I’m seeking and growing and thinking. And I guess all of that is good.

After all, what do we do? Onward! That’s what we do and where we go.


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